When I opened Pure Bred Chihuahua, the first novel by filmmaker Marco Zaffino (published by Pitseleh Publishing) I had no idea what to expect. The title gives away little, except that it is likely to be an unusual book, and the blurb too is rather non-specific. Thus it seems the only way to enter the world of Pure Bred Chihuahua is to open it up and read.
As it turns out this is at first an overwhelming experience. There’s a lot of information to absorb in the first few chapters, and the delivery of it is irritatingly didactic. There are hints of a war, of Assassins, of supernatural happenings–but it’s a long time before we get to see this exciting world in action rather than having it explained to us by a narrator.
The story–when it does get going–is an intriguing one. In the setting of an alternate version of the modern-day world we see a group of men and women with supernatural abilities preparing for a magical battle between worlds: Diplomats recruit promising psychic candidates from the gutter; our protagonists learn how to “visit” (a skill akin to astral projection) and how to fight off the menacing threat of Assassins. It is all rather strange, but treads the line between reality and fantasy so well that it remains pleasingly believeable.
In keeping with the story, the written style is indelibly funky, with a lot to be said for it. It has street cred, colour, plenty of life and animation. The dialogue is perhaps overloaded and melodramatic in places, but this adds to the filmic quality of the book. Pure Bred Chihuahua paints a world in bright colours, crackling with energy. The narrators too are livewires, and we constantly switch between them, diving from reflection to action to self-referentialism and back again.
The ever-changing narrators are–for some reason–indicated by initial only, with a key printed in the front of the book. This results in a lot of flicking back and forth… although I gave up the task of working out who was speaking after about a hundred pages, as all the narrators were more or less the same. There are a few other baffling aspects to the text that make it hard to engage with. The text is tiny with huge and varying margins. Typos are thick on the ground, and often make it hard to understand what is going on: closing speech marks are absent, sentences lack the crucial comma that would change their meaning. Little things, but they add up.
Pure Bred Chihuahua is a big, bright, colourful story. It is an adventure, and a strange and enlightening one at that. But it struggles to get off the ground, and lacks a final polish when it does. If it were only a little more streamlined and finished I’d have no hesitation in recommending it.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.